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Publishers WeeklyBrown's first work of nonfiction poses an irreverent challenge to American exceptionalism and the romantic premise of life, liberty, and happiness. A patchwork investigation into our passionate self-fictions and their roots in American culture and history, Brown's essays make a jazz-like assembly, riffing on sex, war, religion, slavery, abusive fathers and Abu Ghraib-attempting a super-narrative that encompasses all manner of American sins. The books strongest sections are it's more personal and sustained, following Brown's romantic idealization of her own deteriorating family, and the religious salvation she sought to escape her pain. As intriguing as her observations can be, however, Brown plays fast and loose with her subjects and doesn't always convince with her far-flung historical comparisons-the Salem witch trials and Iraqi prisoners, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, etc. Brown (The Gifts of the Body) tells us that her essays are romances-elastic, unconventional narratives that allow the impossible to take shape-but as capsule analyses of the American character, they largely avoid the real complexity of history and context.
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